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Under Pressure

Under PressureBy Bob Humphrey

-- Whitetails aren't easy to hunt anywhere. The toughest places to take whitetails are areas with high hunter densities. Deer quickly learn to avoid danger and in high-pressure areas, their instincts are honed to a fine edge. The combination of throngs of hunters and super-wary deer is enough to dissuade all but the most dedicated. If you're frustrated with too many hunters and not enough deer, there's still hope. By using the right methods and hunting the right places, frustrated hunters can significantly increase their odds of putting venison in the freezer, even in the hardest hunted areas.
 
I began deer hunting with three strikes against me. I had no one to teach me; I hunted in areas with heavy hunting pressure; and deer densities weren't what they are today. However, teaching myself how to hunt under the worst conditions made me a better hunter than I might otherwise have become. I still hunt pressured areas, and by employing what I've learned, I've become a lot more successful. 
 
You might even say I had four strikes against me because I'm a slow learner. It took several seasons to learn my first important lesson. I spent those autumns walking around, looking for deer and deer signs. I saw plenty of deer, but usually just a fleeting glimpse of the whitetail salute. Then, more often than not, I'd hear shots just over the next rise. It took me a while to realize the guys who most often got deer where the ones who sat still. 
 
The next year, I changed my tactics, picked a stand, and resolved to sit tight. That led to many long, cold hours waiting for something to happen. Things finally paid off though when I got my first look at an undisturbed deer in the woods. Unfortunately, all I saw were does, and darned few of them. I still hadn't quite developed the patience I needed, which was probably a good thing.
 
I saw fewer deer on stand, but I still saw plenty of hunters thrashing around the woods. Eventually, frustration and boredom took over and I decided to go for a hike. It was one of those rare, balmy late autumn days perfect for a little exploration. It took me nearly an hour, but I finally made it to the top of the mountain. Tired from my hike I sat down and took a look around. Oak leaves showed their cool-weather colors all around me. Heavy deer trails rutted the ground, and from where I sat, I could see two big rubs. I sat there for the rest of the afternoon and though I didn't see any deer, I never saw another hunter. 
 
I returned to the top of the mountain early the next morning, well before light. The first few hours passed slowly. Then, around 9 a.m., just when most hunters are getting restless, I heard shots ring out from the valley below. It wasn't long before I heard fast footfalls in the dry leaves and a 6-point buck trotted up the hill. As he neared my position, he slowed to a walk. A few long minutes later he came within shotgun range, and my first buck was down.  

I learned several lessons from that deer. First, sitting still is not enough. You need to sit in the right place. Second, the right place is usually on the fringes of pressured areas, away from the crowds. The key to finding such areas is scouting.
 
You can save yourself a lot of trouble by beginning your scouting from your living room. Topo maps and aerial photos are invaluable in getting a big picture perspective of the area you want to hunt. Thanks to modern technology, this process is made much easier by MapTech's Terrain Navigator and DeLorme's Topo USA. The products provide topographic maps on CD-ROM so you can pre-scout prospective areas right on your computer screen.
 
In pressured areas, I look for two key features: remoteness and funnels. Casual hunters seldom venture too far into the woods. Thus, most of the pressure will be near roads. When the deer are pushed out of these areas, they'll often take the path of least resistance, going around or along rivers, lakes, and steep ridges. Look for places where these features provide an easy escape route from heavily hunted areas.
 
The next thing to consider is where the deer are going. I found the perfect set-up last year on a topo map: a large swamp perched atop a long ridge well away from the road. I scouted it in the afternoon and returned the next morning before the sun rose. I was perched in a wide gap between two steep ridges just as the rest of the hunters were leaving their vehicles and going into the woods. It wasn't long before I heard rapidly approaching footfalls. I took one of my best bucks that day, on heavily hunted public land.
 
Hiking in well away from the roads, I learned another important lesson, more or less by accident. Because I was so far back in the woods, I seldom ventured out for a lunchtime rendezvous with my hunting buddies. It seemed the longer I sat in one spot, the better my odds of success. In fact, most of my buck sightings were from 10 a.m-2 p.m. - the hours when most hunters are out of the woods.
 
If you're not inclined to hike in away from the roads, don't despair. Some deer in pressured areas have a knack of hiding almost underfoot. The key is to look where the other hunters don't. Dense swamps provide a great example. 
 
I was hunting with a friend, Mark Luthman, several years ago on a state-owned wildlife management area. Around 9 a.m., I noticed three hunters still-hunting parallel to one another. When they reached a dense hemlock copse, they split up and skirted the edges. No sooner had they passed when a buck materialized out of the swamp and sauntered over to Mark. After his shot, I raced over to see what happened. Though the swamp water was scarcely a foot deep, the big 190-pound 8-pointer was soaked up to his chest, revealing how he had eluded the three hunters.
 
If they feel safe, deer will let hunters walk past them all day long. They can find cover in something as small or simple as a patch of brush, a drainage ditch, even around houses and buildings. The biggest buck I ever shot was jumped from behind a barn by a passing tractor. I know of a bowhunter in Ohio who can watch the evening news on his neighbor's television from his treestand, and he has several trophies to his credit.
 
These are only a few of the techniques for successfully hunting pressured deer. There are others, but part of the fun of deer hunting is learning how to do it in the particular area you hunt. Study their movement patterns. Take note of where deer go when disturbed; they often use the same escape routes. Look for unlikely or underhunted pockets, and be patient. Before long you'll welcome the pressure.

Comments
By Eric Riback @ Wednesday, August 29, 2007 6:53 PM
Please be aware that National Geographic also has a topographic map program called TOPO!. As opposed to DeLorme's Topo USA, ours has high-resolution scans of actual USGS topo sheets with tools that make it possible to create custom maps. In most western states we have GMU boundaries available for free download at www.topogmus.com.

As well, the new Magellan Triton series of handheld GPS receivers, shipping this fall, will be able to display our maps on their large touch screens.

On these and most other receivers, you can transfer waypoints, routes and tracks between the software and GPS.

Our software is popular with hunters for planning, keeping notes on the maps and displaying GPS tracks and points after scouting trips for a custom take-along map on the return to the field during hunting season. Particularly valuable for groups, where scouting notes and GPS info can be combined on a map that all take with them on the hunt.

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